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Engaging with the Indigenous Community

At Calgary Learns, part of my role is to guide practitioners as well as agencies on ways they can engage with Indigenous peoples and communities. By broadening their own knowledge and understanding of Indigenous history, Indigenous ways of knowing, being and doing, and building relationships, learners will benefit.  I had been asked by Immigrant serving organizations about engaging with the Indigenous community and thought this information would be useful to others as well. 

As a first step, it is important to ask yourself why you would like to learn about Indigenous peoples. What you will do after you have expanded your knowledge and understanding? Will you work harder to become an ally? Will this change your perceptions and help you speak up to challenge the stereotypes and racism that Indigenous peoples experience? Relationship building is a wonderful and respectful way to connect with the community and to examine your own role and responsibility on the road to reconciliation and allyship within your own communities. With this in mind, please watch the following video that talks about being an ally to Indigenous communities (Watch Here).

This work needs to be intentional. This takes planning, a genuine interest, and being open to the learning.  I believe the best way to learn is to build connections and relationships with the Indigenous community. You can do this by following the social media pages of local Indigenous agencies, attending their events, inviting speakers into your learning spaces, going to the museums and events on the local reserves, attending Indigenous-led markets, fashion shows, and other community events hosted around the city. 

If you are wanting to host Elders/Knowledge Keepers/ Facilitators in your learning spaces and do not know where to go, you can contact any local organization that works with Indigenous peoples in a good way about assisting with making a connection. It is also very important to know how to prepare to ask, host, and build a relationship in a good way. The following are suggestions, and do not cover all considerations, as we are many different nations with many different protocols. 


Give yourself lots of time to connect with an Elder/ Knowledge Keeper or Indigenous facilitator. They book up fast and need a few months’ notice.  Our Elders are very busy and they need to care for themselves as well. 

You will need to know how to approach an Indigenous facilitator/Elder or Knowledge Keeper when asking if they are available. Start with a Tobacco tie offering (Tobacco Tie Information) and be really clear about what it is that you are asking of that person. The number and depth of topics you wish to engage in learnings/workshops/teachings have to be reasonable so that they can be completed during the time allotted. For example, you cannot expect to learn about residential schools, the 60’s scoop and traditional hunting practices in a two-hour session. Narrow down the focus of what you are asking for, and also, know why you are asking. You should be open to discussing the proposed learning topic, as the Elder/Knowledge Keeper/Facilitator may have suggestions of a topic to start with for your learners. Please keep in mind that it is not appropriate to ask for some teachings, as some (ceremonial practices, for example) are considered sacred knowledge. 

It is important to consider if this is a relationship that you would like to maintain long-term or if you are asking for a single learning session. This may influence the Elder’s decision to accept your Tobacco tie offering. If they accept the Tobacco tie, it means both of you have committed to a respectful relationship of learning.  If they do not accept it, that means that they may not have capacity to commit to the relationship in the ways you need, based on what you specifically asked of them. This is okay, and you can ask if they are aware of anyone who could assist you; otherwise, continue to check your network.  


You will have to budget for honorariums. Honorarium amounts are based on the value that you put on the teachings and learnings you will be receiving. Some Elders/Knowledge Keepers/Facilitators may have set rates.  An example of honorarium amounts could be a half day session valued at $300 and a full day at over $500.  You will need to consider travel costs, meals, etc. for Elders/Knowledge Keepers/Facilitators and the helpers who may attend your event with them. When planning your event, it is most appropriate to first approach an Elder helper, or your referral source, about honorarium amounts and travel costs. They can guide you about how to approach the Elder if you need to. Please also inquire about the method of receiving the honorarium, including timing, that is preferred by the Elder/Knowledge Keeper/facilitator.

Session Protocols 

When you have connected with someone to do your learning/teaching, it is important to know how to host your guest. Please collect this information prior to the session. Most Elders/Knowledge Keepers/ Facilitators begin their sessions with a Smudge. You should ask if this is something that they would like to do, and then see if your space allows for this. At the start of the session, you will present your Tobacco tin and gift.  The gift can be a blanket and/or cloth; you can ask them, or their helpers, what a meaningful gift would be. These gifts are usually paid forward to others – shared with family and helpers or used in other learnings/teachings. You can discuss when they would like to be presented with this gift and the Tobacco. It can be done in private or in front of the learners; it is their preference. If a ceremony is scheduled, Elders usually are gifted the four colours (red yellow, white, blue/green) in broadcloth.  They may request an additional colour or pattern.  Please be mindful of Elder needs such as food (and dietary restrictions), drink, and rest.

After the Session

Keep in touch. This is the opportunity for you to build and maintain the relationship. Give them a call, invite them for tea, send a care basket, or send them an email inviting them to your agency if you host other events. Check-in on them. Let them know they are valued by your organization. 

If you have any questions or are looking for connections, please feel free to contact me at

Additional Information:

Engaging With Elders

Some Local Organizations Where You Can Build Relationships with Community by Going to Their Events and Open Programs:

Metis Calgary Family Services

Urban Society for Aboriginal Youth (USAY)

Aboriginal Friendship Center of Calgary (AFCC)


Elizabeth Fry Society

Events hosted by Colouring it Forward 

Events hosted by Awo Taan Healing Society

Events hosted by Telus Spark

Events hosted by Fort Calgary

Events hosted by Blackfoot Crossing

TSUUT’INA Nation Culture Museum

Metis Local 87

Metis Nation Region 3 office

Events by Authentically Indigenous

Making Treaty 7 

Some Indigenous Consultants:

Mahegun Tails Inc.

Kodiak Herbal

Cree8 Consulting

Moon Beadz

Authentically Indigenous

Moonstone Creation

Some Ideas For Learning Opportunities:

Telus Spark

They have done a wonderful job of including Indigenous perspectives with hosted films, interactive displays and events. 

Connect with the Indigenous Engagement Coordinator. 


Calgary Library

They are having some online events, and they also have times you can book with an Elder for virtual sessions.

or you can message Indigenous services and see what they have to offer for your group

TSUUT’INA Nation Culture Museum

You can book a tour at the museum. Group rates are available.

Nose Hill Park

There is a beautiful Medicine Wheel in the park. You can book a Medicine Wheel teaching with Knowledge Keeper Cheryle Chagnon-Greyeyes or her daughter Chantal Stormsong Chagnon at the Nose Hill Medicine Wheel – when it’s warm enough, of course! 

They can be found at Cree8 Consulting, they host many different kinds of learning workshops as well!

Indigenous Walking Tours

 With Many Chief Tours beginning in May 2023

Kodiak Herbal

Kaylyn Kodiak is a Metis Herbalist that does workshops and medicine plant tours. She shares history and stories of Metis people, and her workshops are wonderful!

Inglewood Bird Sanctuary 

They have a self guided “the land is home project” art installment. You could book an educational tour with a facilitator such as Kodiak Herbal or Cree8 Consulting.

Metis Nation Region 3 Office

You could ask to book an information session about the history of Metis peoples and their culture. 


They host classes and events that are open to all people. They have the Tawow Family Resource Center which offers family programming to everyone and Diamond Willow Youth Lodge for youth.

Blackfoot Crossing

You can book a group tour here, and they also host events for visitors.  

Blanket Exercise 

This is an experiential learning session that allows participants to walk in over 500 years of history here in Canada. 

You could book a virtual or in-person exercise here through Kairos Canada:

A local Facilitator available, and you could contact:

Moon Beadz Blanket Exercise

Upcoming Events :


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